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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Radio feature reporting


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Friday, June 30, 2006
SDX Awards: Radio feature reporting

Winner: Dan Collison, Elizabeth Meister and Sufjan Stevens — Long Haul Productions, National Public Radio

By Chris Speckman

And the watchers beware

Lest they see it fall

Paradise might laugh when at last it falls

And the sewing machine

The industrial god

It’s the great God Bird with its altar call

Yes it’s the great God Bird though it all

Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister weren’t just creating an award-winning radio feature when they pieced together “The Lord God Bird.” They were inventing a new genre.

“Our purpose was to tell the story using just (Sufjan) Stevens’ music and lyrics and the voices of Brinkley residents,” said Collison and Meister. “We purposely chose not to use a third-person narrator because we felt it would disrupt the relationship and intimacy between the music and the voices. It was a challenge because, as far as we knew, a ‘music story’ of this kind had never been produced. We were, in effect, crafting a new genre.”

Listeners tuning into “The Lord God Bird” on National Public Radio were treated to the small-town story of Brinkley, Ark., a comatose community resuscitated by the discovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, a bird thought to be extinct for 50 years, within city limits.

It was a one-of-a-kind yarn. One that could be told only by the residents who lived through the surreal circumstances. The hairdresser who offered “Ivory Bill haircuts” to birders and media who flooded Brinkley. The owner of an eating establishment whose BBQ restaurant became the home of the “Ivory Bill burger.” The people whose prayers were answered when the “Lord God” bird arrived.

Folk rocker Sufjan Stevens lent his talents to the project, recording a song inspired by the folklore of the woodpecker. Collison and Meister intertwined Steven’s singing with the voices of the townspeople, creating the perfect nest for “The Lord God Bird.”

“(It was) a charming and haunting profile of small-town America, skillfully intermixed with insight into issues of the environment and the economy — and made all the more memorable by the original music composed for the feature,” said the judges. “Applause to the entrants for having the courage to step aside and let people tell their own story in their own words.”

“Judging from the overwhelmingly positive listener response, it worked,” said Collison and Meister. “NPR reported to us that it’d never had such demand for a downloadable song, and we additionally received more overwhelmingly positive e-mail than we had for any of the other 100-plus documentaries we’ve produced.”

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